The Visible vs the Invisible Church

In light of what came to light over the last couple of posts concerning the doctrine of Unity and Separation and, from that, some insight into the Federal Vision Heresy, I decided to revisit a post from 2006 titled  Let Us Reason Together Part 26 – The Wheat and the Tares. At the end of that post I linked to an article at the Reformation Theology website, which is well worth reading in light of these current attacks. I suggest you read my post about the our Lord’s parable about the wheat and the tares first then read what follows. Be blessed my brethren. – Mike Ratliff

The Visible Vs. The Invisible Church

What do we mean when we make the distinction between the visible and invisible church? And what is the reason for this distinction? Starting around the 4th century – the expression “Visible Church” was refered to by theologians, not to a building, but to the members on the rolls of a local church. In other words, all persons who are members of a local church are considered to be a part of the visible church.

On the other hand, the invisible church refers to those persons who have actually been regenerated or quickened by the Holy Sprit, God’s elect or true believers. Augustine referred to the church as a mixed body, a visible people, but this people has both tares and wheat, as described by Jesus. In other words, there is no such thing as a perfect church, and there will always people in the church there with bad motives or are there for the wrong reason. There will always be people who claim to love Christ but whose heart is far from Him. Many, Jesus says, will say on that day, did we not do this and that in your name? Jesus wil then say, “I never knew you”. These are descriptions of some people now sitting in your local church and Jesus says of them that he “never knew them!!!” Some persons are in church for show, to be seen by men as pious, others perhaps for a social club or to show of their ability to wax eloquent when discussing theology. These persons hearts are completely invisible to us, but of course, they are not invisible to God and only He can know who is truly regenerate, so we must be generous in our judgements.

The following is a detailed description of the orthodox doctrine of the visible and invisible church as explained by Pastor Brian Schwertley. It is well worth reading and quite helpful:

Perhaps the most succinct and the best statement of the church as invisible and visible is found in the Westminster Standards. Chapter 25, “Of the Church,” states: “The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (sections 1, 2).

Reformed theologians emphasize that this distinction does not mean that God has two separate churches. Indeed, they assert that Jehovah has founded one church, that Jesus has only one bride, people, church, or body. Our Lord does not have two churches but only one. The terms “invisible” and “visible” are used to describe two distinct aspects of the one church; or, to put it another way, the church is considered from two different perspectives. It is not that there are two separate air tight categories with one group on heaven and another on earth. On the contrary, there is a great overlap between both categories. All genuine believers are members of the invisible church whether they are living in heaven or on earth, whether they are alive or dead (i.e., have died physically). Not all professing Christians, however, who are members of the visible church, are members of the invisible church. Some people who make a profession of faith and are baptized are hypocrites. Such people do not truly believe in Christ (thus are never truly united to Him by faith) and are not part of the invisible church. This reality will receive further elucidation below.

The term invisible as defined by the Reformed symbols and theologians does not mean that some Christians are invisible like ghosts floating around in the spirit realm. It refers to the fact that the invisible church cannot be fully discovered, distinguished or discerned by the eyes of men, by empirical means. There are a number of reasons why this statement cannot be denied. (a) No one has the ability to look into the human heart and see if a person is truly united to Christ and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. That reality is the reason that, historically, Presbyterian churches have admitted members upon a credible profession of faith. (b) The inward, effectual calling of the Spirit and the application of redemption to the human soul are all spiritual, unseen events. Further, the Holy Spirit gives genuine saving faith only to the elect. The counterfeit faith of unregenerate professors of religion often is indiscernible to mere mortals. We can only perceive outward signs, statements and actions. No person has the ability to determine or observe the whole body of God’s elect irrespective of time (i.e., throughout human history prior to the last judgment) or place (i.e., there are many real believers in the world of which we are not aware). Williamson writes: “It is invisible to us because it has extension in both time and space. It reaches from one end of the earth to the other, and from the beginning to the end of the age. But it is invisible only to us. It is not invisible to God. He who infallibly discerns the hearts of men, knows them that are his. “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: ‘the Lord knoweth them that are his’ (II Tim. 2:19).”Jesus prayed for the invisible church—the elect present and not yet born in John 17. “Christ is speaking of a special company which had been given to Him. The reference, then, is to the sovereign election of God, whereby He chose a definite number to be His ‘peculiar people’—His in a peculiar or special way. These are eternally His: ‘chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world’ (Eph. 1:4); and by the immutability of His purpose of grace (Rom. 11:29), they are always His.”

The visible church is designated “visible” because it is discernable by the senses, by empirical means. It consists of everyone who professes the true religion along with their children. Because men do not have the ability to see into the minds of men and read the human heart, anyone who professes Jesus Christ in credible manner (i.e., he has a knowledge of the gospel, he is orthodox in doctrine, he professes faith in Christ and repentance toward God, he is not as far as anyone is aware committing habitual or scandalous sins) is allowed to join the church along with his children. In the visible church there are genuine believers who are truly united to Christ and false professors or hypocrites who only taste of heavenly gifts but do not really partake of the Savior. Their relationship to Him is only outward. “On this account the church is compared to a floor, in which there is not only wheat but also chaff (Matt. iii. 12); to a field, where tares as well as good seed are sown (Matt. xiii. 24, 25); to a net, which gathers bad fish together with the good (ver. 47); to a great house, in which are vessels of every kind some to honour and some to dishonor,—2 Tim. ii. 20.”[5] People who are members of the visible church yet who never truly believe in Christ receive the outward privileges of membership (fellowship, the word, the sacraments and the guidance of church government), but are never regenerated, saved, forgiven, united to Christ and spiritually sanctified. The blood of Jesus never washes away their sins.

The visible church is set apart from the world by profession as well as its external government, discipline, and ordinances (e.g., the preached word and the sacraments). The members of the visible church have obeyed the outward call of the gospel, professing Christ, submitting to baptism and placing themselves under the preaching and authority of the local church. All such persons who obey the outward call of the gospel place themselves in covenant with God. They have separated themselves from the world and at least outwardly enjoy the privileges of being members of the visible church (e.g., the teaching of the word, godly guidance, the fellowship of the saints, etc.). While in a certain sense those who outwardly profess the truth participate in an external covenant with real responsibilities and privileges, it does not mean and theologically cannot mean that they truly participate in the saving merits of Christ. Such persons (for a time) are in the covenant but are never genuinely of the covenant. They participate in the covenant externally as professors of the true religion, but they never participate in the covenant of grace which flows from the eternal covenant of redemption…

It needs to be recognized that although God deals with the visible church as one church, as one people of God, the external administration of the church with the preaching of the word, the ordinances and discipline in the present and in the long run (e.g., after the final judgment, in the eternal state) only truly benefit the invisible church or the elect. While outward professors receive temporary benefits resulting from intellectual insights from the word, pressure to conform to God’s law, the outward influence from a society of family-oriented, ethical people, etc., they receive greater damnation on the day of judgment for spurning the great light to which they were exposed under continual gospel preaching.

let us examine a few passages of Scripture that strongly support the traditional view of the church as visible and invisible:

a) 1 John 2:19-20: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.” In this passage John discusses certain persons who at one time had professed apostolic doctrine and were members of the church.
Note the Spirit-inspired analysis of the apostle John regarding this all too common situation. John says, “they were not of us.” That is, they were never genuine members of the church. While it is true that they were baptized and professed the true religion, they were never united to Christ or saved. They were chaff on the same floor as wheat (Mt. 3:12), or tares among the wheat (Mt. 13:24-25). They were members of the visible church but never of the invisible church. In this context John uses the term “us” (emon) in the sense of true Christians.
The apostle makes two observations …First, he says that true Christians or members of the invisible church cannot apostatize: “for if they were of us [i.e., true believers], they would have continued with us.” The fact that these professing Christians departed from the church is empirical proof that they were never true Christians. “They went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” “The meaning here is that secession proves a want of fundamental union from the rest.”[9] Second, John says that true believers have received the Holy Spirit from Christ which secures them against apostasy or desertion: “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things.” True believers or members of the invisible church cannot fall away because they are baptized with the Holy Spirit and thus permanently abide in Christ (see 1 Jn. 2:27; 5:4). Our Lord concurs: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (Jn. 10:27-28).

1 Jn. 2:19-20 teaches: (1) the church is composed of true and false believers; and (2) the doctrine of perseverance. True Christians are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit and can never apostatize while those who are not baptized in the Spirit and not united to the Savior can. “Their presence in the visible church was temporary, for they failed in their perseverance. If they had been members of the invisible church, they would have remained with the body of believers.”

b) Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” After warning His disciples of the danger of false prophets, Our Lord warns them of the consequences of a false profession of religion. He describes people who profess Christ; who acknowledge His Lordship; who are even engaged in some type of Christian service; yet who never had a saving relationship to Jesus. These people were obviously members of the visible church. But, they were never truly united to the Lord or saved; they were never members of the invisible church.

This section of Scripture contradicts Arminianism, which teaches that if people accept Jesus as Savior they are truly saved but can later reject the faith and fall away. It also explicitly contradicts the Auburn teaching that people who profess Christ and are baptized are really united to Him, loved by Him and forgiven by Him even if they are not among the elect (individually) and thus eventually fall away.[11] Note, Jesus says to all false professors of religion on the day of judgment, “I never knew you.” Since God is omniscient, the word “knew” in this context does not refer to a mere intellectual knowledge (e.g., in John’s gospel see: 1:47, 49; 2:24, 25; 21:17). Rather the term “knew” in this passage is used in the Hebraic sense of love, acknowledgment, friendship, intimate fellowship. Our Lord says that everyone in the visible church who is not really saved (i.e., they do not have true saving faith and the works that demonstrate the reality of that faith.) never, ever (i.e., for even a single moment) had a relationship or vital union with Him. There is no other way that the Savior’s words can be interpreted without doing violence to the text of Scripture. Although Jesus’ words are in complete harmony with the classic Protestant distinction between the visible and invisible church, they cannot be harmonized with the new Auburn theological innovations.

(c) Romans 9:6: “But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” In the epistle to the Romans, Paul explicitly recognized the two-fold aspect of the church when he explains why the majority of the old covenant people of God did not embrace their Messiah.

In order to properly understand Romans 9:6 we briefly need to consider the context. In Romans chapter 8 Paul elaborates on the major theme that all those who are in Christ shall never be condemned. Believers are delivered from the law by Jesus’ death. They are freed from the pollution of sin by the indwelling power of the Spirit. The Spirit’s power also guarantees a believer’s resurrection and glorification. Christians have their assurance rooted in their union with Christ. There also is the comfort of the intercession of the Holy Spirit. Toward the end of the chapter the safety and assurance of believers is founded upon God’s electing love from eternity. Here the apostle discusses the unbreakable chain of the order of salvation (ordo salutis) and the fact that “if God is for us, who can be against us?”

In chapter 9, as Paul turns his attention to the design of God in reference to Jews and Gentiles, he needs to answer the question: “What about Israel?” If election and perseverance are rooted in the eternal-unchanging love of God, how can the mass apostasy of the Jewish people be explained? They were God’s people, the church, who received the word, the promises, the sacraments and ordinances. Does not God’s rejection of the Jewish nation contradict the promises to Abraham and the perseverance promised in chapter 8? No, absolutely not! The apostle explains that it is to true Israel (i.e., the elect or the invisible church) that the promises are made. It is to these people only that God’s eternal electing love is directed. There is national election—the nation of Israel or the visible church—and within Israel, the visible church, there is true Israel—the invisible church. The Jews who did not reject the Messiah are “a remnant according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5).
For Paul there is true Israel (the elect, the invisible church, the remnant) within national Israel (the visible church). In other words the elect or the invisible church is hidden in the visible church. Further, when describing why the church is composed of true Israel (i.e., real believers) and false Israel (i.e., hypocrites) the apostle turns our attention to the doctrine of election

Paul discusses the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. These twins were conceived at the same moment and were born only minutes apart. Both were covenant children born of the patriarch Isaac. Both received circumcision and were part of the visible church—the covenant people of God. Since Esau was circumcised does Paul argue that he was loved and forgiven by God? No. God hated Esau before he was even born (Rom. 9:11-13). Although Esau was a circumcised member of the visible church, he was never united to Christ, loved by God or forgiven. Instead, he was a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction (Rom. 9:22). Esau’s circumcision was never efficacious because he was never regenerated and given the gift of saving faith. As Paul says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15).

d) Another section of Scripture … is 2 Peter 2. This chapter describes men who at one time were baptized, members in good standing and who had even become teachers. Peter, does not say that they were loved or forgiven but that they for a time “escaped the pollutions of the world” (2 Pet. 2:20). That is, they had an external reformation of behavior based on an intellectual knowledge of the word. Peter makes it crystal clear that these men were not united to Christ, regenerated, forgiven or saved because he says their natures were never, ever truly changed. He says, “But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire'” (2 Pet. 2:22). A dog and a pig act according to their own nature. One can wash a pig and make it clean, but a pig is a pig. It will return to wallowing in the mud—in disgusting filth—because that is what pigs do. The apostle is saying that people who apostatize, who return to their former lifestyle, never had an interior work of the Holy Spirit. They were never regenerated and united to Christ. Their natures were never changed. The apostle is, in fact, teaching that if we could look at the hearts of those who apostatized, “we would discover that at no time were they ever activated by a true love of God. They were all this while goats, and not sheep, ravening wolves, and not gentle lambs.” In other words the visible church contains not only real believers but also unsaved hypocrites.

Here is the link to the original post.

19 thoughts on “The Visible vs the Invisible Church

  1. Mike, what a privilege to be part of the ‘ïnvisible Church’!
    And what a blessed relief not to have to worry about fitting in a “visible church”!
    The Lord knows who are His!

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  2. Sometimes this is a hard one……admitting that someone is only a part of the “visible”.
    I do not know if it is grief over their condition, or embarrassment over not discerning it, or possibly a bit of both; but it is very disconcerting at times!

    I praise Jesus for His faithfulness to me to lead me in TRUTH, not a “feel-good” religion, but a true, black and white, rubber meets the road, strewn with sufferings, afflictions and persecution relationship with HIM.
    The blessings that come from obedience are too numerous to try and post, the peace in my heart is unfathomable, even though it is also breaking for those I love who are still entangled in the “visible”, also a few who have “GONE BACK” to wallowing!

    Jesus is coming!

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  3. As I read through the last three posts about Federal Vision and such, it just seems to be perfectly clear that what we are seeing is just the same old slide towards universalism, only with it’s unique “reformed” angle…

    How many times can these doctrines of demons be repackaged and resold to people? It’s really not even shocking anymore, but almost routine…

    You mention the overlap between the visible and invisible church, (which I agree has probably existed to one degree or another for most of history since Christ ascended…), but I would propose that we are now entering into a more unique (i.e. final) stage of history whereby to truly follow Christ means being willing to walk in Faith regardless of whether or not we have some form of “visible church” to be a part of, whether it is a building, or a membership roll, etc…

    I believe we are fastly approaching a time when being part of a “visible” church will undoubtedly equate to denying Christ Himself…

    I would also have to say that it should be all that surprising to us that we are seeing so many pastors and bible teachers, from so many different backgrounds and denominations, being defiled by this leaven. Even though this apostasy is taking so many different forms (at least outwardly), infecting the church on so many levels, it essentially always relies on the same, pivotal concept through which to work, the “visible church”…

    I believe that Christians, (yes, even faithful, Bible-believing Christians) have sorely underestimated the degree of vulnerability that we have placed ourselves after relying on external, institutional structures as a means of trying to preserve the true Gospel through the centuries. It is this emphasis on the importance of the “church visible” which has now conditioned so many church-attending people to embrace the teachings of those who sit in the right seats….

    Sure, the “Reformation” happened, calling people back to Christ alone, the five solas, etc., but even though they may have denounced the heresies of Rome, the Reformers never fully walked away from the reliance on institutionalism itself, (the vessel which allowed the excesses and idolatry of Rome to flourish in the first place…)

    Now, hundreds of years later, we have created all these denominations, we’ve established colleges and “bible schools” and seminaries, we have “Christian” publishing houses, distribution chains, networks, organizations, mega-churches, para-churches, “ministries” of every shape and size under the sun, ALL of which exist based on the assumption that the “visible church” is a meaningful, necessary, and vital element to living the Christian life…

    The things is though, God has never needed such institutions and structures to accomplish His will, but Satan has

    We know this because we now see the Enemy using the “visible church” as the perfect Trojan Horse, and he didn’t have to build it… We built it, and all he has had to do is get enough of his workmen into it, enough “tares” into the artificial silo, alongside the wheat….

    The edifice we’ve been so tirelessly constructing to serve as a durable and “tangible” embodiment of the Bride of Christ, is now revealing itself to the be Great Harlot instead…

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  4. Thanks Mike… I am so grateful to know brothers like you, who are still here, proclaiming His Word, and standing faithful in the midst of such great deception…

    It is ironic to be talking about the Reformation, since what we are seeing today is really a kind of a counter-Reformation, a Satanic Reformation. Instead of questioning the traditions and teachings of man and holding it up to the Word, these modern-day counter-reformers are doing the very opposite, questioning God’s Word in favor of the teachings of fallen men… The thing is, all these guys like McLaren or Rob Bell or Rick Warren, are not going back to what Rome was, they are playing their pipes and leading people towards what the Enemy has always intended Rome to be, the banner of universalism, the global “Rome”, the ultimate reconstruction of the Tower of Babel, a final throne which Satan is preparing for himself on which to sit…

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  5. You are right Dan, and what is so puzzling to me, and you I am sure, is why they can’t see it. Their spiritual blindness in this is truly amazing. I think the only thing that can explain its depth is that they have been judged and God has blinded them. The fact that we see it so clearly and they think we are just being legalistic or backward or whatever and they have no fear of God is just plain scary to me. It should cause us to draw even closer to our Lord in gratitude and repentance.

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  6. Well, I guess the only way I can really understand it, is from the perspective of my own testimony…

    I grew up in the church, hearing all the stories, learning about the cross, sin, heaven and hell, but all these things were really just words, empty doctrines, for many, many years, until I finally came face to face the reality of my own sin… And when I was in that place, the arguments and ideas being put forth by all these false teachings probably would’ve sounded quite convincing to my unregenerate mind…

    But once He brought me to that place where I could no longer hide from the depth of wickedness in my own heart, then it’s like my ability to play all those little religious, word-twisting games was over.

    Yet with all these “emerging” teachers it is quite clear that they have never been brought to that place, never acknowledged that they born being as much a slave to sin as anyone else, and that the cross Jesus died on was really their cross…

    And so basically everything else that happens, however it manages to play itself out, is really just the natural outworking of this underlying denial of one’s own sinfulness. Every bit of theological double-speak and verbal gymnastics is simply the pathetic effort of trying to explain the purpose of Christ, the Cross, and the Word outside of the redemption from sin…

    The Gospel thereby has to be re-interpreted and re-defined, in order to try and silence the voice of the Spirit which speaks to every one of our consciences… This is why we see this in EVERY variation of these false teachings, and why they are in reality not all that difficult to sniff out, because in the end, they all strive to somehow downplay or adjust the issue of sin… So in all, this is of course nothing new at all, the only thing that is “new” about it is the scope and scale on which it is occuring, (and probably also the fact that now Eastern mysticism/philosophy is playing such a huge role)…

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  7. While I disavow the Federal Vision heresy, I must say that it is wrong to denigrate the Visible Church. Sure, joining the visible chuch doesn’t save anyone, but true believers are to join a true chuch. The Apostles do not go around establishing invisible churches. Instead, they establish proper visible churches with elders and deacons, and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper (both of which are not possible to be done in any invisible church).

    Separating from false churches has at its converse a separating to true churches.

    It must be admitted that in this age, there are few true churches around. It is thus regrettable that there may be situations whereby one is unable to find any true churches within 100 miles or more. If one finds oneself in such a state, then one can see if there are any like-minded believers around, ask true churches if they are willing to send a pastor to plant a church at your area, and try to form a church.

    It is obligatory for believers to try as much as possible to find a true church and join it where possible. What is not acceptable are those who refuse to even look for one and think that they are somehow more spiritual because they are in the “invisible church” and not the visible church.

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  8. Daniel (Chew), I would have to respectfully disagree…

    In fact, I would say that even within the context of your last comment, there position you are outlining actually contradicts itself…

    First I would just point out that the apostles and Early Church founders essentially did go around planting “invisible churches”! Yes, they had elders and deacons, but when we take an honest look at scripture itself, (without superimposing our own definitions and assumptions over the text…) then what we see are giftings, or callings, not official “leadership positions”, or anything resembling either the modern pastorate, or even the OT priesthood…

    They did not erect special religious buildings to worship and pray in, nor did their gatherings consist of everyone getting together just to passively sit and listen to one person speak…

    Also, the Lord’s supper and baptism were not viewed as “sacrements”, as though they were any kind of special ritual that had to be administered or presided by some official in the church. In fact, their “love feasts” were literal meals, eaten by everyone, wherein the Body and Blood of Jesus was remembered, (just as Jesus had instructed).

    But back to this issue of the “visible church” vs. the invisible…

    How do we define a “true” visible church? Isn’t it simply by the fact that it is comprised of true believers, and that within that group the true gospel is preached? That is what was meant by the term “overlap” in Mike’s post… And so it must be remembered, that it is the true faith of the people which directly determines whether a visible church has any legitimacy, and not the other way around… Of course, the error of these Federal Vision folks is completely reliant on people believing quite the opposite, where at least a measure of faith is put in the institutions themselves, beyond Christ alone…

    And so, just like you are describing, this is the somewhat schizophrenic message one hears from the “visible church”, whereby it is effectively communicated: “Trust and embrace the visible church, but only the true ones“…. and “Trust and follow the professional pastors, but only the true ones“…

    It is this whole dichotomized approach which has now indoctrinated generations of Christians to believe that the most important thing for them is to first find a “good church” and join it. Not to have a solid and firm grasp of the gospel itself, not to be able to explain it and teach it to others, but to go and put yourself under the authority of an institution

    But this whole series of posts, (and many others that have already preceded them) only serves to demonstrate how simply being a part of a “visible”, established, institutional church does not necessarily provide ANY protection against false teachings that can absolutely deceive people to the point of them spending an eternity in seperation from God!

    And that is the whole point! Don’t you realize, don’t you think that so many of the people who are eating up these kinds of books, and buying into “Christian Universalism” take great comfort and reassurance from the fact that they are being taught such things from “pastors”???? Don’t you think they are able to rationalize and affirm these unbiblical beliefs due to the fact that they are part of a “well-established church”???

    Everywhere we look now, we see these facets of institutionalism being employed by the Enemy himself to teach the doctrines of demons, and yet STILL, we insist on defending the notion that Christians cannot stand firm on the power of the Word, the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and the accountability of other true brothers and sisters in Christ….. We just can’t let go of our treasured, religious shells… We forget that they are nothing at all, without FIRST having the presence of the Holy Spirit, which comes how? Through the individuals who truly believe….

    The “visible church” does not impart the Holy Spirit… The visible church does not mediate grace. The visible Church does not mete out salvation, or Truth, or anything else, GOD does….

    The Bible tells us to not give up meeting with the saints… But this is a far cry from the idea that we need to be affiliated with some form of externally-defined entity…

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  9. @Dan:

    anytime we have Christians coming together physically in an official manner, it is de facto visible. Unles one wants to have anarchy, there are rules as to how to handle conflict etc even if such rules are unwritten.

    The type of anti-intstitutionalist position is plainly ridiculous. Every house church is an institution to itself, an anti-institutional institution. The whole anarchist position by Barna and Viola is just plain self-contradictory. One does not need to have a building in order to be a visible church.

    A true non-institutional position would be for Christians not to meet up regularly, and not to meet the same people and have the same leader or group of leaders regularly. There is no such entity. Every house church has leaders even if they are not called leaders.

    That some people may think finding good churches is more important than getting the Gospel right does not mean that finding a good chuch is unimportant. Wrong priorities does not invalidate a biblical imperative.

    As for your communitarian position on leadership, it is sufficient to say that it violates the pastoral epistles not to mention all the verses in Scripture that tell us to submit to our leaders.

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  10. Yes I think the Apostles laid out wise, organizational guidelines for churches. But the church is still his invisible Spirit led body.
    I have found that God always brings people into my life one way or another to share in the Lord and his work because I am a living, breathing, growing part of it. It is his work alone that binds us together.

    I really enjoyed your comment Dan. Makes perfect sense to me.

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  11. I believe Dan brought up some good points. If we read First Corinthians chapter 14 it is clear that the gatherings of christians did not involve a group of people sitting passively listening to the same pastor every Sunday. All christians participated in the service and that’s why Paul instructs them prophesy or teach one at a time, or speak in tongues in an orderly manner with one interpreter. Also First Corinthians chapter 14 instructs women to keep quiet while men participate in the service, and not just one pastor. We have to be careful before we speak highly of the visible church today, because we ought not to worship an institution that does not resemble the biblical model.

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  12. Agree Carolyn. Paul mentions in the New Romans 11 that when Elijah thought he was the only believer left and all the prophets had been killed, God answered that he had kept for himself a remnant of 7,000. Obviously Elijah was unaware of this, so the biblical Church is clearly invisible and not visible.

    The Reformers are interpreted sometimes and some of them may have maintained that there is no salvation outside the visible Church. Regardless, there is no biblical foundation for this statement. The invisible church is both within and in some cases can be outside any visible church. Not better example than Elijah.

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  13. If the Spirit remained the leader in the visible church it would function the way it is meant to. But when the Spirit isn’t in control, then human government steps in and becomes the same as any other secular government. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    So in any government, you then have the heavy weights, the big mouths and the bullies (unions, etc.) taking over and democracy is lost…eventually in every case.

    Same in the visible churches. Because of the corruption of the human heart, God has to keep calling his true church out because of our very own evil tendencies to idolatry. We invariably love to exalt human leadership over the Spirit with catastrophic results.

    Satan is using the visible churches for his own purposes and always has. The RC Church, the Corporate, the Hyper Charismatic, Emergent, Dominionist…they are popping up faster than we can keep up…leaven of apostasy permeating the visible church on every front.

    What are we to do? If the Spirit leads us, “come out and be separate and touch no unclean thing”. The Spirit through his Word is our teacher, not the Catholic Pope, nor a Protestant Pope, nor an angel with wings and a halo.

    And for those of us with honest hearts, we will make the Word and the Spirit our final authority.

    Bill I agree. Elijah is a good example. On that Day, we, like Elijah, are going to be surprised just how many God has reserved for himself.

    As one who has experienced the dark side of the visible church, I am thankful that the Lord knows his own and we are not less of the body because we don’t attend a structured, temple made with hands, that has in many cases become a twisted, conglomerate of tangled apostasy.

    And as Dan alluded to, we become very self satisfied when we belong to some sort of “group think” entity that is bigger than ourselves. We rest on our laurels, so to speak, our spiritual vision becomes blurred and our discernment dies.

    In the end, it is just the Lord who has the final Word. Where the Spirit leads, whether to a group of Bible oriented Christians, or to the mission field or “on the streets” ministry, or an internet group of believers, we are his called and chosen and he will lead if we will follow.

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  14. @ Daniel Chew,

    I hear your objections, unfortunately, what you are reacting against is a compilation of misguided perceptions and false assumptions… The Bible does not at all present a picture of the Body of Christ functioning in an “anarchist” manner. The Spirit of God is a Spirit of order, not chaos…

    But what you are doing is confusing order with institution, and this is not surprising, since institutionalism is essentially grounded upon the very assumption that order cannot come about any other way than by imposing an institution over a group of people…

    But the Body of Christ was not created this way, it is not the result of people being put under the yoke of some external authoritative framework (as the Law was), but rather consists of all the people who have surrendered to the Holy Spirit within

    To a person who has been trained to only think in terms of institutions, it is understandable why they would believe that all house churches are by default little institutions themselves, but this is simply not true. Does it necessitate an institution to meet with a group of people at a certain time to pray or share what God is doing in your lives? No, it really doesn’t! (you’d be amazed at how incredibly simple it is to organize gatherings like this…) There is absolutely leadership, but it is understood within the context that first and foremost our leader is Christ Himself, and not in just some theoretical way, but in a very real and tangible sense… If the Holy Spirit is regarded as alive and active, someone who we can truly hear, and respond to, then it changes our entire perception of “leadership” and “followership” from the outset. In fact, the more you understand the depth and power of the leadership of the Spirit, the more you start to see that the basis for all the true human “leaders” in the Body is simply the presense of the Holy Spirit being in their lives in the first place! There is nothing that any of us have, no wisdom, no authority, no understanding, no maturity, nothing, that is not itself a gift that was first given to us from God anyhow… We must see that it is He who is the source of everything we look for in “leadership”, and that none if it actually comes from the people themselves…

    Beyond this, it should be pointed out that we ALL have already been given “rules as to how to handle conflict, etc.”, the scriptures themselves! Is God’s Word really insufficient to provide us with the direction and guidance to handle those inevitable conflicts? Do we really believe that the Spirit, and the Word, are not enough, and that we need to add our own measure of security on top of these…?

    Because this has been the fatal mistake, and if you are able to stop and take an honest look at what you have witnessed in your own life, you will see it for yourself…

    Tell me, how did the heresies of the “Purpose Driven Life” spread like wildfire throughout the entire planet in only a few short years? Was it through “unsupervised” and “communitarian” groups who meet where ever they can, coming together to pray and read the Word together..? Was it through the folks who have emulated the example of the Bereans and have dared to question the traditions of men in light of what the scriptures say? Or was it through a massive, interdenominational marketing blitz, which targeted and exploited the leadership structures that are common to all denominations?

    I believe you already know the answer, because you saw it happen, just as many of the people here have… The lies of Rick Warren and Co. were spread so effectively, because they knew exactly what they were doing. Their approach was crafted perfectly for the “purpose” of using the institutional church structure to spread their worldly message. If a person was found to be a “trouble-maker”, (translation: someone who actually put the authority of the Word of God above all else), then that person was to be removed from any position of influence. It’s like a spiritual coup… And we have seen this happen time and again throughout history… How many of our now modern, liberal institutions of higher learning were actually begun as bible colleges and seminaries? (Yale, Princeton, etc…) This is why it is again the SPIRIT, the presence of Christ in the heart of the person, which is the only true basis for authority in the Church… Do academic credentials or professional experience really provide a measure of protection against worldliness and false teaching? Of course not, and such misplaced trust on these things has opened up many, many people to being deceived. You show many any piece of false teaching, no matter how weird, and I’m sure I can find you some guy with a “masters in theology” who endorses it…

    Please try and understand, that what I am describing is not an absence of leadership, but rather an understanding of leadership that really cannot be compared to any other worldly example of it… It is not “communitarianism”, nor is it an appeal to good old democracy either, because the Kingdom of God is not a democracy (we have a King!).

    The appeals to Christian institutionalism is rooted in the belief that without a hierarchy of church leadership, then it will be chaos and confusion and false teaching will sweep in like a flood. Unfortunately, history does not substantiate this, but actually quite the opposite. The reality is that in such a climate, all it takes to spread false teaching to a large mass of people, is to get yourself into the top of the pyramid. After that, it’s a fairly simple matter of packaging your false teachings in a manner that the people will find appealing and positive (a la P.D.L…), and people will swallow what their trusty leadership feeds them, because after all, that’s what people have been conditioned and admonished to do!

    Don’t you see the contradiction? If leadership within the Body of Christ really can be reduced to simply being hired into a position by a “non-profit” (i.e. company…), then how can you fault any of the people you’ve known who have embraced false teachings like the Purpose Driven Life? You really can’t, because they’re simply following right along under the mindset which you are now putting forth to me….

    And as far as the “pastoral epistles” go, when we take an honest look at all of that, what we see is an intensely relational depiction of what it means for a “seasoned”, mature disciple of Christ to raise up and train a younger one to do the same… Paul preached the gospel where ever he went, he didn’t need any external “ministry” to validate himself or his message, he had been called by God Himself! (and so have we!)

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